Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 2nd May 2014 20:03 UTC
Talk, Rumors, X Versus Y

So I set myself the task of picking five great works of software. The criteria were simple: How long had it been around? Did people directly interact with it every day? Did people use it to do something meaningful? I came up with the office suite Microsoft Office, the image editor Photoshop, the videogame Pac-Man, the operating system Unix, and the text editor Emacs.

Each person has his or her own criteria for these sorts of things, but in my view, this list is woefully inadequate. If it were up to me, I would pick these, in no particular order:

  • A-0 System: the first ever compiler, written by Grace Hopper in 1951 and 1952, for the UNIVAC I.
  • UNIX: This one's a given.
  • WorldWideWeb/CERN HTTPd: the first web browser and the first web server, both written by Tim Berners-Lee. Also a given.
  • Xerox Star: this one is actually a tie between the Star, its research predecessor the Alto, and Douglas Engelbart's NLS. These three combined still define the way we do computing today - whether you look at a desktop, a smartphone, or a tablet. I decided to go with the Star because it was the only one of the three that was commercially available, and because it's so incredibly similar to what we still use today.
  • Windows: you cannot have a list of the greatest software of all time without Windows. You may not like it, you may even hate it, but the impact Windows has had on the computing world - and far, far beyond that - is immense. Not including it is a huge disservice to the operating system that put a computer on every desk, in every home.

This leaves a whole bunch of others out, such as Lotus 1-2-3, DOS, the Mac OS, Linux, and god knows what else - but such is the nature of lists like this.

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That's a monopoly's marketing in action, not technological innovation. The market could have seen an ecosystem of competing platforms. The Amiga had long filenames, pre-emptive multitasking, hardware-accelerated video and sound, and multimedia in 1986. The Atari had amazing capabilities too. The Mac was the clear leader in GUI development, and BeOS had innovations still not fully realized in today's OS. OS/2 had incredibly solid design, such that video driver crashes didn't even bring down the operating system, and an awesome threading model.

All of these deserved a fair shot at the market denied to them by monopolistic practices and lock-down through OEM agreements with Microsoft. The fact that a PC wound up on every desktop was bound to happen. It happened belatedly and half-assedly and with security holes that have fundamentally affected the growth of the internet, thanks to Microsoft.

Everything else on this list was a first of its kind innovation; Microsoft invented nothing of significance, not even MS-DOS. In fact, everything they added was old news to the technophiles by the time it showed up in a Microsoft product, usually after MS's marketing arm had argued against it and acted to kill it elsewhere.

Edited 2014-05-03 03:44 UTC

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